Tag Archives: Nanaimo

Gulls Eating Sea Stars

Back in August of this year, the 14th to be exact, I was walking along the waterfront in Sidney, BC when I caught a gull red-handed (or red-billed) trying to swallow a sea star. Here’s the sequence of 4 pictures that I took over a half-minute or so:

Gull Eating Sea Star 1 of 4 - P1170385 Gull Eating Sea Star 2 of 4 - P1170386

Gull Eating Sea Star 3 of 4 - P1170387 Gull Eating Sea Star 4 of 4 - P1170388

The gull does not seem to be having a lot of success.

Then, I was looking through some older images yesterday and found another sequence of 4 images taken in March 2016 at Neck Point Park in Nanaimo:

Gull Swallowing Sea Star 1 of 4

Gull Swallowing Sea Star 2 of 4 Gull Swallowing Sea Star 3 of 4

Gull Swallowing Sea Star 4 of 4

The first image shows the gull with the sea star in its mouth. The following three images show the gull swallowing the sea star. It had to extend its neck which, as you can see by the white spot on the rocks appearing in the third image, triggered a ‘movement’.

Watching Coot-Looting Wigeons at Buttertubs Marsh

I sometimes wonder why I don’t get bored going to the same birding locations month after month, year after year.  A big part of it is that, on any given day, there is a chance that they will see something different or rare or perhaps even totally new.

This past Sunday, while on an organized outing with a bunch of local birders to Buttertubs Marsh Bird Sanctuary in Nanaimo, I got my “something-new” fix.  In this case is wasn’t a new species of bird — instead it was an inter-species interaction that I had never noticed before – that of an American Wigeon stealing food from an American Coot.

Scene 1: Following the Coot

Coot (Fulica americana) & American Wigeon (Anas americana)

The first of the two species, the American Wigeon (Anas americana), is a duck that is part of the genus Anas sometimes referred to as dabbling ducks.  These duck may feed on land or on the water where they can tip themselves upside down and gather underwater plants up to several inches below the surface.

The second of the two species, the American Coot (Fulica americana), is in the family Rallidae of rails and looks a little like a small black chicken.  These birds may feed on land, by dabbling in shallow water or by diving for plants.

I captured a short video of the food stealing behaviour (kleptoparasitism) with my Panasonic DMC FZ-200 camera.  I may have had too much fun and gotten a little carried away with the presentation.  You be the judge:

At one point there were at least 3 or 4 Wigeon-Coot pairs doing similar food-stealing dances.

On another occasion I watched as a Wigeon tried to manage two Coots at the same time and seemed to spend a lot of time in the middle trying to decide which way to go.  Not a good strategy for a low-intelligence bird it would seem.

Some further comments and other notes resulting from forays into online ‘research’:

  • A 1979 article suggested that the Wigeon is the only duck known to be a regular kleptoparasite (ref [3]).
  • A 1984 article documents Gadwalls stealing food from American Coots (ref [4]).
  • Other ‘dabbling ducks’ in the genus Anas include the Mallard, Wigeons, Teals, Shovelers, Pintails, the Black Duck, the Gadwall and a few others.
  • Wigeons apparently will try to steal food from other diving water birds, not just from coots.
  • Coots, in turn, have been known to steal food from other water birds.
  • Coots will also dive to escape predators (the Coot is one of the easiest birds for the Bald Eagle to catch).

References

A good source of information that I like to use is the Birds of North America online service from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The service is not free but for anyone curious about bird behaviour it’s worth the price in my opinion.  They have a one month subscription that costs $5 if you want to give it a try.

[1] BNA online article on the American Wigeon.

[2] BNA online article on the American Coot.

[3] H. Jane Brockmann & C. J. Barnard,  Kleptoparasitism in birds, Animal Behaviour Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK
Animal Behaviour (Impact Factor: 3.14). 05/1979; 27:487-514. DOI: 10.1016/0003-3472(79)90185-4

[4] Juan A. Amat & Ramón C. Soriguer, Kleptoparasitism of Coots by Gadwalls, Ornis Scandinavica 15: 188-194.  Copenhagen 1984.

Post Election Birding in Nanaimo

I made my first post-election birding trip yesterday.  A friend, who I’ll refer to by his initials LR, and I set our Nanaimo itinerary to take us on a loop including Neck Point, Pipers Lagoon, the Nanaimo River Estuary and Buttertub Marsh.

We should have known better as we only made it to Neck Point and Pipers Lagoon spending more than two hours at those two sites.  We did add the Linley Valley Drive Wetlands which is walking distance from our house.

As usual, I had both camera and binoculars at hand.  Birding was enjoyable and I did get a couple of nice pictures that I’ll share.

Neck Point

We arrived at Neck Point and had barely got out of the car when the buzzing (for an example play this recording of a Bewick’s Wren on Xeno-Canto) of a Bewick’s Wren was heard.  There was actually a pair flitting around near the parking lot and they were surprisingly unafraid bopping around in plain site.  Here is one checking me out:

Bewick's Wren at Neck Point, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Bewick’s Wren at Neck Point, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Note that I rely heavily on the auto-focus feature of my camera (Panasonic FZ-200).  When taking of pictures of fast moving birds, especially when they are in bushes the auto-focus does not always behave.  Here is an example:

Camera misfocus on Bewick's Wren.

Camera misfocus on Bewick’s Wren.

Apparently the camera liked the road-side pebbles better.

We saw a total of 14 species at Neck Point (eBird checklist)

Pipers Lagoon

Pipers lagoon was more productive producing a total of 23 species (eBird checklist).  The picture bird, a male Hairy Woodpecker,  was again located first by sound (here’s a recording of a Hairy Woodpecker on Xeno-Canto).  Here’s a picture that shows the long bill (compare with the shorter bill of its smaller look-alike cousin the Downy Woodpecker):

Hairy Woodpecker, Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Hairy Woodpecker, Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

The final picture, while not of the highest quality because it was taken at full zoom, proved to be useful for the identification of a pair of gulls sitting on a small rock offshore.  The yellowish legs and plumage suggested a California or a Mew gull.  Studying the picture later suggested that it was a Mew Gull.  Check it out for yourself:

Mew Gulls at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Mew Gulls at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Linley Valley Dr Wetlands

A two minute walk from my house is a small wetlands  surrounded by housing developments in various stages of completion.  We spent about a half hour walking the path that runs along one side of the pond and saw some interesting birds (5 new species for the day) including a Hooded Merganser pair, Ring-necked Ducks, a Fox Sparrow, Chestnut-sided Chickadees (surprisingly not seen at the other two locations) and a Pied-billed Grebe.  The site total was 12 species (eBird checklist)